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Profiling Leiden Japan Sources in the Global History field: From Bipolar to Multipolar Research

Leiden University Library and related museum holdings in Leiden contain a body of materials showing the unique role of Dutch-Japanese trade relations as a node in the history of global flows of knowledge, materials and culture during the early modern period.

Kiri Paramore
15 August 2018

Key words: Global History, Japan-Netherlands relations, Sociology of Knowledge, Comparative Politics

Source Fields: Governance, Trade, Science, Medicine, Botany, Religion, Political Economy

Duration: 5 years


Leiden University Library and related museum holdings in Leiden contain a body of materials showing the unique role of Dutch-Japanese trade relations as a node in the history of global flows of knowledge, materials and culture during the early modern period.

This project aims to contribute to the repositioning of research using these sources in new scholarly paradigms emerging in Global History. These include the rising fields of global intellectual history, historical approaches to the sociology of knowledge, and comparative political theory.

Despite the potential of Leiden Japan sources for charting the history of global interaction during the early modern period, these materials are still surprisingly underutilized in the field of Global History. This is for two reasons. Firstly, because use of these materials requires a rare mixture of advanced capacity in multiple language forms used in early modern Japan (Classical Chinese, Classical Japanese, early-modern epistle-style Japanese sōrōbun), often in combination with a capacity to read earlier forms of Dutch. Secondly, and more importantly, this material is underutilized because the questions asked of it in much previous research failed to engage broader academic paradigms. Much previous research on this material positioned it in narrow, precarious fields like “Netherlands-Dutch Relations”, so-called “Rangaku (Dutch Japanese learning) studies”, and “the History of European Expansion” - fields which today barely still exist in the global academy. The questions asked in these twentieth century fields were twentieth century questions based on a vision of intercultural interaction which was viewed primarily in national bipolar terms. The global historical trends of today, on the other hand, look to place interactions in larger multipolar regional systems.

This project will produce research based on Leiden holdings positioned centrally in major current academic discussions and emerging fields. This will be achieved primarily through historical research which analyses the sources in the context of the multipolar global flows of knowledge, materials and culture which characterized early modern East Asian regionalism and globalism.

The P.I. has an outstanding track record of publications using this context to bring out new analysis of early modern trans-cultural sources relating to Japanese history and global history, including more than 15 articles over the past 5 years on related topics in major international journals and in prestigious forums such as the Cambridge History series, the Proceedings of the British Academy, and the Journal of Early Modern History (see publication list attached).

This project will continue the trajectory of this work, but with a clear focus on the particular materials of early modern East Asian interaction facilitated through Dutch-Japanese contact and held in Leiden. It will produce publications on this material in major international journals of global history, both journals where the P.I. has already published, like the Journal of Early Modern History, and in other similar forums such as the Journal of Global History (see more extensive list below). Positioning of research outcomes in these fora will aid a broader scholarly engagement with this material. The project will also organize lectures and workshops which will facilitate the use of this material by a network of international partners (listed below), and will facilitate the presentation of research based on these materials in major international forums (see target list below). It will also engineer a web-based platform which will further facilitate the use of this material internationally in a variety of ways (further details below).

This project will thus contribute to the Ailion Foundation’s aims through supporting Japanese Studies at Leiden in a form which promotes the research activities and holdings at Leiden in the broadest international scholarly setting of Global History. This engagement with Global history mirrors the approach of the leading scholars in Japan, and on Japanese history globally, who use Leiden materials and focus on Dutch-Japanese relations (for instance, Matsukata Fuyuko (Tokyo), and Okubo Takeharu (Keio)). The project’s activities are deliberately engaged to encourage further cooperation between these scholars and a broad range of scholars and holdings in Leiden, thereby making an ongoing contribution to cultural and academic exchange between the Netherlands and Japan, set in a shared global academic context.

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